Archive by Author

Rural America: Is Anyone Listening?

I suppose as the citizens of the United States begin to digest the results of Tuesday’s election a lot of us will don the appearance of political pundits. Given the historic upset of the Presidential race there will, no doubt, be an endless flow of commentary, dissection, and analysis. If you’re an armchair politician it might prove fascinating if not also a bit entertaining, but if you’re looking for a measure of peace and quiet it seems this campaign season will not fade so quickly into silence.

I’m not a political pundit or intellectual scholar. Of course, after last night I’ve lost confidence in political “science” and the opinions of the experts. Nevertheless, any reflection I might add to the noise may prove to be superficial or, at worst, completely wrong. While I didn’t support either of the major candidates I cannot help but think last night was a stinging indictment of—maybe even a victory over—the political, social, and media elite. The mainstream seemed completely unable to comprehend what was happening and, to his credit, NBC’s Lester Holt noted several times: “This is because of us.” After hours of wrestling with results the one comment that stuck with me was how […]

Christian Love

In his wonderful book, Christian Love, Scottish theologian and pastor Hugh Binning wrote: “In [love] a Christian should be like his Father, and there is nothing in which he resembles him more than in this, to walk in love towards all men.” For the Christian, love is not one grace among many, but it is the unity of all graces and the crown of our profession. I’ve had to think often of that as I have recently finished preaching a series through the well-known “love chapter” that is 1 Corinthians 13. I’m not entirely sure how those messages were received by the congregation, but for my part I was often led to repent for my lovelessness, to swell in gratitude for the Father’s love in Jesus shed abroad by the Holy Spirit, and to long for heaven which is, as Jonathan Edwards put it, “a world of love.”

It would be impossible to rehearse all the ways I profited from my preparation and preaching of Christian love. But I want to offer a few reflections that have especially stuck with me.

First, the love of 1 Corinthians 13 is to be earnestly desired. Within the context that’s Paul’s point. As much as […]

The Monster We Created: Councils, Brand Names, and Celebrities

In Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein, a young scientist, Victor Frankenstein, conjures up a way to give life to the nonliving. His ambition leads him to an unorthodox science experiment that breeds a grotesque creature for whom he will claim no responsibility. In the course of time his monster becomes all his grief and ruin. With his lofty ambitions shattered by despondency, Victor determines that his only destiny is to “pursue and destroy the being to whom I gave existence.” But it’s too late. The monster couldn’t be contained.

I’m not a literary critic and, to be honest, I’m only superficially familiar with Frankenstein. But among its several themes the story line stands as a warning against overreach and creating what was not meant to be created. While Shelley’s novel is the Romantic movement’s pushback against the Industrial Revolution, perhaps there’s a small prophetic voice to remind the church how quickly ambitions can spiral out of control and result in misshapen monsters that actually prove to be destructive to the noble aspirations with which we began. I say that because, as it appears to me, this is exactly the kind of monster the broader evangelical movement has created. In the laboratories of […]

Rural and Small Town Ministry

I hope you won’t mind if I indulge for a moment in some shameless self-promotion. Recently, the denomination I belong to and the one most affiliated with Gentle Reformation, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, held its quadrennial international conference in Marion, IN. As a father of five children, a pastor with some teaching responsibilities, and one who is a fairly energetic socialite, the week was exhausting but filling. One of my personal highlights was being able to speak at a workshop on the topic of rural and small town ministry. See! I told you it would be a moment of shameless self-promotion.

For the last three years I have been pastor of Winchester RPCNA in Winchester, KS. Our small community boasts of a whopping estimated population of 535 people. Even before becoming a pastor there was a soft spot in my heart for rural and small towns. Having grown up in southern Minnesota both my wife and I have been aware that in these areas it can be difficult to find Christ-centered and gospel believing churches. Where they do exist their continuance is often threatened for lack of people and resources. We should do what we can to maintain […]

Help! My Congregation Struggles With My Preaching

In a previous post I wrote about the real spiritual crisis some people have with regard to their pastor’s preaching. Wanting to be fed, convicted, helped, and encouraged, there are those who week-by-week struggle to benefit from the preaching they receive. Sympathetically, that’s a difficult place to be spiritually. Whether I was successful or not I attempted to redirect people to acknowledge that many of the problems don’t begin at the pulpit but in the pew. In doing so, I said very little with regard to how a pastor should respond. But it is often the case that not all the problems are sitting in the pews. Some of them are standing in the pulpit. That too can be a real dilemma. After all, preaching is the center of a pastor’s ministry and something he should pour himself heart and soul into. When congregants struggle with that preaching it’s not easy to face their concerns–yet it is absolutely necessary.

Allow me, by way of preface, to say two things so you know the direction from which I am coming. First, in my short experience as a preacher–I stood in a pulpit for the first time a little over ten years ago–I’ve […]

Let Justice Roll Down

It has been a tumultuous week. Of course, in a very unfortunate way that almost seems normal. Turmoil, discord, confusion, and anarchy appear to be the new normal. That’s the society we live in. Recent headlines only confirm it. We have learned this week that the politically elite are not subject to the same laws as the governed, and dishonesty is an excusable offense so long as one is seeking to protect a reputation. We have again been troubled by the graphic and complicated images of those gunned down by police. We hear of the ways in which truth is being suppressed and efforts are being made to mute and silence religious convictions. We have watched again as those who have sworn to maintain peace have been, in a very calculated manner, executed on the street. Turmoil. Discord. Confusion. Anarchy. It leaves the world crying for justice because, in a very real sense, people see that things are not as they should be.

It’s difficult to know what to say in response. Even as I sit here and let my fingers do my thinking my own mind has tossed and turned and my reflections have taken a new direction. To desire […]

Trinitarian Controversy: Necessary Sharpening or Unnecessary Strife?

Sometimes the unfortunate idiomatic expression: “Boys will be boys,” is used to excuse turning a blind eye to the irresponsible behavior of some. After all, what more can you expect from boys? Well, if I can borrow that phrase and adjust it slightly, I suppose one might excuse their deaf ear when it comes to certain theological controversies determining that: “Theologians will be theologians.” There seems to be a certain expectation that theologians will raise mountains out of molehills, create crises out of theological thin air, and make every point of doctrine and endless potential for dilemma. I understand and am not completely unsympathetic toward those who see many theological controversies as a hopeless labyrinth of details lacking practical value.

But not every controversy is a mere “quarrel of words.” The history of the church testifies that out of our greatest strife we have been most sharpened. While those who engage in the debates might do a better job communicating to observers the value and worth of their discussions, so too those who tend to be disinclined shouldn’t be quick to dismiss all arguments as an “unhealthy craving for controversy” (1 Timothy 6:4). Perhaps we can all do better at learning […]

Help! I Struggle With My Pastor’s Preaching

Call me an old school Presbyterian but in my estimation there is nothing as important as the preaching of God’s Word. I don’t think it was overbold for PT Forsyth to suggest: “With its preaching Christianity stands or falls.” Preaching is not merely an appendix to the many activities of the church, an ancillary support to a pastor’s more important tasks, or a supplement for the spirituality of a congregation. It stands at the center. It is the primary method God uses to give faith (Romans 10:17), to save sinners (1 Corinthians 1:21), and to spiritually strengthen (Romans 16:25). It’s for this reason the Westminster Shorter Catechism says: “The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching, of the word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.” That’s why it can be such a spiritual crisis when people struggle with their pastor’s preaching.

I was recently speaking with a friend who was dealing with this problem. For some time he has not felt overly encouraged or built up by the preaching in his local church. It’s not that there’s false doctrine being preached or anything […]

Can Women Teach Sunday School–A Fruitless or Fruitful Question?

Occasionally I have a mild interest in the intramural disagreements floating around the blogosphere. Okay, let me be a little more accurate. I usually keep one eye on the latest cyber-wranglings but hesitate to say much publicly lest I add to the ridiculous amount of ignorance being promoted. Too often they produce more heat than light, and become an exercise in futility, wounded egos, and endless tit-for-tat counterpoints. Ah, the sweet taste of fruitlessness! But once in a great while I’m surprised!

My latest surprise has been watching the unfolding of an interesting and charitable back-and-forth that began as a discussion point on whether or not women can teach men in Sunday school–can, of course, being used here in the permissive sense. Before any eye rolling begins, the difference is among those who heartily affirm the Bible’s restriction of the office of elder to men. Nevertheless, it doesn’t appear there is a consensus on this point. Here’s a quick roundup–:

On an episode of Mortification of Spin hosted by Carl Trueman, Aimee Byrd, and Todd Pruitt, the hosts were clarifying their complementarian views and a difference arose as to who may teach an adult Sunday school class. Todd strongly opposed women teaching […]

Helping Rural America in Crisis

In a recent article Anthony Bradley, professor of religious studies at The King’s College in New York, drew attention to the “deadly crisis in rural America.” Citing analysis from The Washington Post and studies from the National Center for Health Statistics, Bradley noted the unusually high rate of suicides in rural areas. Such statistics, he believes, evidence the hopelessness, despair, and depression found in the same. Without giving any answers, he asks the provocative and necessary question: “Do conservative Protestants care? Have we traded off reaching hurt people with redemptive healing and hope for influence and power in places where Christians can have an ‘impact’ and ‘influence’ the culture? […] Why are evangelicals more excited about planting churches and missions in ‘alpha cities’ among artists, creatives, and professionals rather than the rural areas where people are suffering?”

As a pastor in rural America these questions resonate deeply with me. It is well documented that small town America rarely looks like Mayberry, and a lot like “Methland.” The crisis we witness in these areas is a crisis for the church. After all, hopelessness, despair, and depression can only be interpreted, mitigated, and worked through by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet, it […]